Sunday, May 20, 2007

Roger Cracks Rafa Riddle

Kunal Diwan

It’s official. Strap your wiggly butts to your lazyboys and prepare for launch. Roger has started liking the dirt. It doesn’t choke his nares as before. His air-maxes have attained firm footing. And a certain someone in three-fourths is certainly frowning in displeasure.

If Federer’s pummeling of Nadal in the final of the Hamburg Masters is anything to go by, we have a French Open of epic proportions awaiting us.

It was not the eventual victory that mattered. It was the timing and manner of it - a handful of days before the French, all knives out against a ‘suspect’ Federer on clay, and this ripped teenager in highly un-recommended tennis attire having his own disdainful way with the champion. Here was a man who had just parted ways with his coach because he did not want any “interference” from any quarter in his preparation for the French. Was this the supercilious decline of a haughty champion? This was surely it. Or so we thought.

Federer’s scowl in the first set was representative of the 2-6 scoreline. His forehand lacked punch. His first serve was off by a mile and did nothing to extricate him from the hypnotic domination that his Majorcan opponent exercised over him each time they met across the net. It was been downright embarrassing, the way this teenager had made the magician appear to be a semi-professional drifter in their earlier encounters.

The first set followed an expected course. Nadal powered his way through whatever Federer hurled his way. Federer scowled, flicked his hair in that arrogant manner of his and (to the best of this writer’s tennis acumen) resigned himself to the ignominy of yet another defeat. Nadal even had a better percentage of points won at the net.

Then suddenly the first serve started hitting the sweet spot. The forays to the net seemed increasingly sure-footed. And before anyone could breathe a familiar gasp of awe, the Federer we knew was back at his dismissive best. He out-ran, out-hit, out-rallied, and out-played Nadal in every possible aspect of the game - in the second set Nadal was out-Nadal-ed by Federer. Second set in his pocket, we waited like scared cats for Rafa to step up a gear in his well-oiled musculature. He did. But Federer out-geared him there as well. I guess all the propitiating on my part had worked wonders. Not that this man needs the help of any Gods that require pleasing.

The decider was vintage (pardon the usage) Federer. He did not play as much as he rammed his brilliance into his opponent’s face. Nadal was blasted off court and ended his 81 match-winning streak on clay with an embarrassing 0-6 drubbing. But then there is no shame in losing to someone who would beat you with equal ease with a toothpick. Spectatorship was elevated to such euphoric levels that Custom Officials may well accost Federer for carrying contraband.

Midway through the third set, (with the end a good ten minutes and three games away) a commentator chimed – “It is going to be a deserved win for Federer. Nothing that Nadal can do about it now”. When someone is playing at this humanly unattainable level, precognition may well be excused.

For the record, Roger Federer beat Rafael Nadal 2-6 6-2 6-0.

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